Sunday, 28 August 2016


There are times as a coach especially during this time of year when tryouts are coming up the emails start rolling in about players looking for a new team.  Of course there are always things that happen when it comes to teams folding, coaches and players moving on.  Sometimes there isn’t anything the player did wrong they just find themselves in a position where they are looking for a new team. Other times the player may realize the game isn’t for them anymore and they decide to move on to other areas of focus. There are many players though that are perpetually looking for a new team every single year or two.  This is what should be avoided.       

In this easy come easy go instant society we find ourselves in there is something to be said for loyalty.  There is something incredibly powerful and worthy about sticking with something that is challenging and a bit painful at times. Learning to stick with it is critical to life success.  Not everything worth fighting for happens on the first try.  There are many parties that have to be loyal to each other when it comes to the team working towards a common goal.  Coaches, parents and players play a role in the commitment to each other at the community team level. The truth is the higher the level of play the more challenging it is to stick together because the competition for each role increases so much more.  People’s jobs are on the line and it becomes more of a business at higher levels.   

For parents, teaching commitment and loyalty is critical to the development of the athlete.  You play a huge role in anchoring their decisions early on.   It goes far beyond the court and echoes into their life with the choices they will make going forward.  When things get hard do you encourage your athlete to keep going and sticking with it or do you teach them to jump at the next opportunity as soon as possible? This will become repeatable in their lives through relationships, jobs and even other team opportunities.   

Make sure you have tried everything you can to have your child be part of the team and be successful.  There are sometimes when dynamics of the team are harmful to the growth of your child if their coach is abusive in some way then by all means remove them.  However, there are a lot of times when your hopes, dreams and aspirations can get in the way of your player’s success just because you are blinded by your desire for them.  Your desire for their success shelters them from the reality of where they are as an athlete in terms of needing to develop, get stronger and be better.    

For players, it can be very tempting to see the grass is always greener with another team.  New coaches may try to entice you over to a different team or you might see the players you are going to play with and think it will be better.  The truth is it may be a bit better but sometimes it is a lot worse. The truth is sometimes there are opportunities to be seized but there is a big difference between running away from something and going towards another opportunity.  Not burning bridges is critical to making a successful move forward. Think about the coach and the teammates you are leaving behind before making the decision.  Sometimes staying with a team that has your back and where you are in a good position is better than leaping for a very big unknown.  There is something to be said for players that stay and make their situation ideal and being a leader on their team instead of a follower on somebody else’s team.   

For coaches, there are moments when we can do a better job of being loyal too.  When you consistently have many players leaving year after year it is important to acknowledge your short comings as a coach.  As there may be reasons why they are leaving all of the time so try to figure it out.  There are sometimes where players don’t fit your philosophy and so they might choose to move on themselves.  There are sometimes when a player is getting left behind and they may have success somewhere else.  There is also a time when another player might be a better fit for your team so room has to be made.  However, if we expect our players to be loyal to us it has to be a two way street.  If you are preaching loyalty and cutting a bunch of your players every year then it is hard for long term relationships and trust to be maintained.  It is up to you to set the tone for your team and build the relationships over your time together that way when adversity hits it pulls the team together instead of ripping it apart. The truth is if players feel like they are getting better with your team most of them will stay and continue to grow.  

Whether you are a coach, parent or player it is really important that if you are going to leave the team always do your best to leave once the season is over.  Leaving in the middle of the season is an incredibly selfish act.  Learn to finish what you at least started before making a clean break.   

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Learn and Apply

There are many traits that can make an athlete great it can be their height, explosiveness, agility, shooting, reaction time and so on.  Sometimes it is their competitive spirit, their drive, their ability to find a way to score or play unbelievable defence at the most critical times.  There are so many skills that come easily and naturally to each athlete depending on their skill set.  These are the intangibles that make them who they are.  There are also other attributes when engaged and developed can be real difference makers to the success of an athlete.  These are things that have nothing to do with physical gifts a player possesses and have everything to do with maximizing potential.  One of these skills is the ability to listen to feedback and apply it.   

Over the years I have had the opportunity to work with some incredibly gifted athletes whether they were already playing college basketball, pushing to get to that level or still in high school playing for the provincial or national teams. The higher I got up through the ranks to find these players the more I noticed this was a common attribute to those that were in elite circles.  The players at the highest levels are often the most eager to take feedback and continue learn.  They are the most willing to listen to the message and apply the information given from their coaches.  They know that if they don’t it is the difference between them getting an opportunity to play or someone else taking their spot.  These players just want to get better and they are hungry to continue to learn and improve.  They see coaches as their allies and use what they tell them to improve.  

When I first noticed this it was about 12 years ago I was working with some college players in the US.  I got to run a practice and the guys were incredibly coachable.  They asked for help and were eager to follow my direction.  At first I thought it must just be this particular group of guys because surely not all elite players could be like this. I wasn’t much older than them at the time and wasn’t very experienced in coaching plus being a woman I thought they would be really resisting my leadership.  I really didn’t think they would be as willing to let me be in charge as they were.  They were great and I really enjoyed working with them.  As I continued to work with more and more high level players I realized this was a common characteristic.  I also found that elite players would not only listen to the feedback given but they would also ask questions to be sure they understood the message completely.   

This was a really eye opening observation for me.  I was surprised when working with less skilled and less experienced players I would get push back when coaching them.  Many of them had an ego, thought they would do it their way or had a guard up not wanting to be helped. Being that type of player is completely your decision and in essence will end up limiting your opportunities because other players who are willing to be coachable will take the information and use it to their advantage. 

Out of all the basketball skills that a player can have one of the ones that can guarantee success.  In the book Michael Jordan The Life by Roland Lazenby he said “This ability to listen was among [Michael Jordan’s] most precious gifts. To his coaches his capacity to be coached was his single most impressive attribute, beyond even the eighteen-year-old’s spectacular physical gifts. Dean Smith asserted, “I had never seen a player listen so closely to what the coaches said and then go and do it.” Michael Jordan added “My greatest skill was being teachable.  I was like a sponge.  Even if I thought my coaches were wrong, I tried to listen and learn something.” 

According to that book this ability to learn was something that imitators of Jordan would often overlook.  They apparently believed their great skills and physical gifts elevated the above the game.  This wasn’t ever the assumption Jordan made and it was what made him great.  

So, what are some things you can work on to make yourself great?   

Rule #1 Pay attention to the message not the tone

Sometimes coaches have to deal with things directly and openly.  Your coach doesn’t have time to sugar coat things or make it feel better they might have to say bluntly because there might be little time to make the adjustment. Get to the message not the tone and try your best not to take comments personally.    

Rule #2 - Listen to the last part of the message 

I can’t tell you how many times this happens where a new drill is being explained or a team is in a time out.  Before the explanation is finished the players start walking away from the huddle with incomplete information. I know when I was younger I was terrible at this.  Often times the last thing the coach says is the most important.  Stick around to hear the end.   

Rule #3 - Say Yes Coach

Simply learning to say “Yes Coach” will put you in a different class of player.  Coaches are more open to helping people that want to be helped.  If you don’t listen you will limit your upward growth.  Don’t argue, complain or blame because honestly coaches don’t want to hear it. Learn to take the feedback and if you really feel passionate about something pick your battles.  If every single time you get called out for something you blame someone else, argue or complain it doesn’t look good on you regardless of who is right or wrong. Your need to be right as a player will impact team chemistry as well.  A way to work on this is at home with your family.  When you are asked to do something or give you feedback just do it without fighting back.  It’s the mature thing to do and excellent practice.  

Rule #4 - Ask questions if you don’t understand

If you don’t understand what your coach is saying you may have to ask for clarification. Too many times athletes just nod even though they don't completely get it.  Your coach knows you don’t understand especially if you keep making the same mistake. Please be advised that right that moment may not be the best timing to ask though.  You may have to wait until after the game, practice or during a break.  Gauge whether it is a good time to ask at that moment because asking your coach a question at the wrong time may make matters worse so clarify at the right time.  

Rule #5 - Realize coaches make mistakes 

Understand that it is your coaches job to organize multiple people and they may not see every single thing.  They are going to make mistakes sometimes and you may get in trouble for something that isn’t necessarily your fault.  There are times you have to just take one for the team as they say.  If you come at it with an attitude of appreciation that your coach is trying to make you better it will help.  Also, if your teammates see you doing that as well they will be more likely to follow suit. This makes for a better atmosphere overall.  

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Penny Factor

We are all familiar with pennies those tiny obsolete coins that are incredibly rare since Canada stopped making them.  This Penny is even more rare as she has been doing the impossible this week at the Olympics earning herself 4 shiny new medals.  This Penny is a 6’1” sixteen year old with the ability to spark an entire nation with her competitive fire.    

Penny Oleksiak came into the Rio Olympics like a lamb and left like a lion.  She made a serious mark on swimming providing a lot of inspiration to her fellow Olympians and Canadians alike.  Now that her events are all done it seems like the energy she showed is still going strong.  Let’s be honest it is hard not to cheer for her!  She is so passionate, digs deep and has a little bit of a naivety about her that works to her advantage.  Maybe it is because she is still young, or doesn’t know, or maybe it is even that she doesn’t care that medals usually take time to earn.  The amazing thing is that she hasn’t bought into that mentality at all.  

When she gets in the pool on that stage she just goes.  A perfect example of when preparation meets opportunity and does she ever make it look easy. 
Clearly Penny believes anything is possible right now. She got to the Olympics and then went on to peak at the perfect time in her races to earn her medals.

Originally Penny was brought to Rio in order to get used to the Olympic scene so she could become acclimatized to it.  She wasn’t even sure she was going to make the Olympic swimming team.  She earned a bronze by completely sneak attacking the first race she was in.  Nobody saw it coming and she snuck right in at the finish line.  Her second race she earned a silver medal. Her third race her and her teammates won a bronze. Finally in her fourth race she tied to win a gold medal.  

In the process of single handedly erasing a 20 year medal drought for the Canadian swimming team.  Penny has inspired many of her teammates showing by example they can do the same.  She is now tied for winning 4 medals at one single Olympics. She is also the first Canadian to win 4 medals at a summer games not bad at all for someone who was supposed to only be acclimatizing herself to the Olympics.  

Penny said in an interview “Coming in here I didn’t think I was going to medal as much as I did an go the times that I went but I’m pretty proud of myself with all my other races and everything and I couldn’t have asked for more. I’m just really happy with myself honestly.”

It isn’t just the medals she has won personally that matter it is also the inspiration she has provided her teammates so that they could see it was possible for them to do it to. When Roger Bannister was the first to break the 4 minute mile back in 1954 it had never been done before.  Pretty soon many athletes were able to break that time limit.  Now it is a benchmark for middle distance runners to reach. Other teammates have been inspired by her and were also able to win medals because she made it look easy. Sometimes it is just a matter of releasing that mental block and going for it.  

It’s hard to look at this story and think what if Penny was left behind and someone else got to come instead.  As a coach trying to determine the types of athletes that can have break out performances like this is incredibly challenging if not impossible.  The important part is as an athlete to put in the work and know there are no shortcuts to success.  Some athletes, like Penny, are naturally very gifted the biggest part Penny has shown is to not give up and to put everything you have into the one race. Then do the same for the next race and then the one after that too.  As an athlete when given the opportunity always channel that passion and play with heart.  Even when mistakes are made as it can make a really big difference to the team.  

Blazing a trail is never easy its especially hard when the odds are stacked against you.  Working hard and taking your lessons often goes under the radar.  No one knew who Penny was at her last competition she wasn’t a household name then and wasn’t accomplished the way she is now.  Hopefully, she is given the tools to help deal with the pressure that comes with succeeding at this level so we can see her thrive again at the next Olympics.  What a performance!  

Sunday, 7 August 2016

The Importance of Consistency

Being consistent is something that can help in every line of work.  The importance of consistency is incredibly high.  Think of how critical consistency is in the life of a a surgeon, fire fighter, soldier or Prime Minister/President.  After all,  in these roles people’s lives depend on your ability to deliver every single time you are called to action. Consistency can be life and death in those roles because if you have a bad day or make the wrong choice people could die.    

On a less critical level imagine you have waited for years and you finally get the opportunity to see one of your favourite singers or bands perform. You are so excited and the atmosphere is absolutely electric.  Then they take the stage and the performance is terrible.  It lacks energy, they forgot the words to their songs and overall they just seem really off. Suddenly you feel completely dejected and disappointed. You waited so long for this and now you are just let down thinking it was a waste of your time and money.   

So when we talk about consistency on a basketball court it is very important. Often the coaches jobs depend on the players ability to perform.  The higher the level of competition the more consistency becomes a factor.  Coaches will make decisions based upon consistency because in crunch time or at the end of a game this will be the time when the smallest factors need to be controlled the most. 

So what are some of the ways an athlete can become more consistent?

1 - Find Your Optimal Performance Level  
Know your performance level and figure out how to find it. The way to figure this out is to think back to the state you were in when you had your best game or go with what felt good for you when you were playing.  The trick is to get that feeling to repeat where you are in that “just right” state.  Some athletes naturally get very hyped up before a game so they are going to have to learn to bring those levels down. Some athletes need to pump themselves up so they need to do something that gets them ready to play.  One of the key factors for many athletes is not being too high or too low however every athlete is unique so it is up to you to figure out what works best for you.  

2 - Pre-Performance Ritual 
Recently, football player JJ Watt surprisingly revealed that his pre-game ritual involves listening to Adele music before he plays.   Athletes can be incredibly unwavering and even have very strange pre-performance rituals that can almost be superstitious to some degree. They can get to the court hours in advance just to start their OCD shooting rituals.  They might have a particular pair of shoes they have to wear or have to talk to someone special before they play.  Figure out what yours is and it may be something simple or incredibly complex.  At the end of the day if it makes you play better that’s what matters.  Keep in mind though with things that are complex if they mess you up or take you in the wrong direction before you even start the game.  It may need to be altered in order to be more repeatable. Getting into the correct mental state is critical to a consistent performance. 

3 - Practice How You Want to Play in the Game
So many athletes don’t take practice as serious as they should.  This is probably the biggest area of improvement I have noticed over the years that I have been involved with coaching basketball.  Players at lower levels often go haphazardly through practice after practice and when the game starts they wonder why they played poorly. They miraculously had a bad game but they don’t put together the practices that lead to those games as critical to their performance.  When you attend a successful university or college practice you can see the level of intensity is the same or greater than in a game. This should give you an indication as to how important this is.  

Playing at your best isn’t like a switch you can turn off and on at will.  Players who make that mistake are really doing themselves and their team a disservice. It has to do with having your state of performance be consistent and elevated every time you step on the court.  You should want to prove to all of your teammates the reason you are there is to be the best player on the court and in the process you will make them better too. This would then be the same rule when you play against opponents.    

4 - Dealing with Adversity 
You don’t always have control over what happens to you but you do have control over how you react to it.  There are going to be obstacles in a game that get in the way of your optimal performance.  No player is going to be perfect or even great every single night.  Sometimes no matter how hard you try the ball just won’t go into the hoop. Sometimes you are a step slow and everything seems to be going wrong.  You might pick up a couple of fouls and you end up on the bench. The way you you react to this will determine your success. To counteract this continue to play team defence, get your teammates a great shot, set great screens, or box out your check so they don’t get an easy rebound.  If you are on the bench help your teammates by letting them know the time on the shot clock, cheer for them and give them ideas of things you see that can help them succeed.  By focusing on these elements you can take the focus off yourself and it might help you to get back into the flow of your own game much faster.  

In closing, consistency is a key factor to succeeding at high levels of sport. Coaches like to be able to some degree accurately predict how you will be in certain situations.  The more consistent and predictable you are the easier it is for them to depend on you when the game is on the line.  If you are on the bench when the game is on the line then what that is telling you is that you aren't predictable with your performances.  Work on your consistency in order to put yourself into a position to succeed. It is a relatively small thing that if done properly can really be a difference maker to your game as well as the success of your team.  

Monday, 1 August 2016

True Toughness

It gets frustrating sometimes watching basketball when a player makes a play they think is tough and they do something like pound their chest, scream into the sky or flex their muscles to show off their strength and prowess for that moment.  It is especially frustrating when the play was all about them.  In this article I want to challenge these displays of toughness and substitute them with items that as a coach I believe are true elements of what should be considered tough.  

Basketball is a team sport.  It is the contribution of all the members of the team that lead to the success as well as the failure of the group.  Too many times we look at individual players and give them too much credit for why their team was able to succeed.  Sometimes it is the sacrifice as well as contributions of other members of that team that have allowed the individual person to be able to get to where they are.  When you are part of a team nobody does it alone.  Here are my top elements that account for True Toughness:

6) Picking Up Teammates - When a teammate hits the ground because they were going for a lose ball or maybe got knocked over in the heat of battle.  There is nothing more powerful then having their teammates hustle over and pick them up when they are down.  It is a powerful acknowledgement of their sacrifice and a way to show some care to the person who was taken down.  This goes for when they are defeated emotionally as well.  Giving them support is critical for the success of the team.  Sometimes I think it can also be powerful and tough when an opponent is taken down on a dirty play that wasn’t intentional for the player to help them up as a form of apology to say they didn’t mean to hurt them is a powerful gesture as well.  

5) Boxing Out and Rebounding - Not letting an opponent get second chances when they take a shot at your basket is incredibly powerful.  Making the sacrifice to put a body on someone and push them back is a very big deal.  Rebounding can be a very telling statistic because typically the team that wins the rebounding war is the team that ends up being victorious at the end of the game.  Boxing out and rebounding are not the most glorified parts of the game.  They are the small elements that lead to the big things.  There is nothing worse than when you have done your job.  Put a body on someone and then one of your teammates check runs right passed you and gets the ball. Rebounding has less to do about height and has everything to do with heart.  Holding your check off to get the rebound is tough.    

4) Making the Extra Pass - Passing up a good shot for a great shot is critical when it comes to toughness.  When you pass up “my shot” to making it “our shot” that is really where team toughness comes in.  Everyone can jack up a shot that is ill-advised.  Having the knowledge and the toughness to stick with your team philosophy in order to take the correct shot is so powerful.  

3) Setting Great Screens - Getting teammates open by setting great screens is such a tough thing to do.  Setting a timely great screen that is used at the correct time is such a tough thing to do.  Often times the recipient of the screen goes too fast when it comes to using it.  The rhythm of when the screen is set and then used is such an important element in basketball.  Being tough enough to pass up your own glory to get someone else open to make a play is so critical to being considered tough.  Also, being tough enough to tell them when to use it properly is important as well.  Communicate your intentions to make your team better.  

2) Finishing Plays - One of the most powerful plays in basketball is the “And 1” play.  The play where you take the ball to the basket and get fouled then finish the basket anyways.  This is such a momentum changer and a way to show unbelievable spirit.  To get to take an extra shot at the free throw line after your shot when in when you were fouled is a big time momentum changers.  

1) Taking a Charge - Out of all the tough things that can be done on the court taking a charge is a favourite.  This is one of the biggest momentum changer. of all  Whenever a player takes a charge it is a testament to that player’s love for their teammates.  To stand there and not move while someone runs into them full speed is so powerful and is the epitome of toughness.  When your teammate does that they should be given a standing ovation and applauded for their extremely selfless efforts. Players should be around them to pick them up and dust them off.    

Taking time to celebrate your teammates instead of yourself is the right way to do it.  Using your passion, enthusiasm and energy to give them the credit for their contributions encourages the bonds between teammates.  When you do something well on either side of the court whether it is on offence or on defence it is critical to be able to get back to work on the next possession.  Too many times players spend time celebrating their accomplishment just to have the other team come back and make a play while the celebration of the previous play is underway.  Being tough means being aware of what is going on around you and not giving up easy plays to the other team.  Celebrate when the game is over. True toughness revolves around staying engaged and remaining focused until the final buzzer sounds.